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E-Readers and the Future of Reading: Notes from Florida

In early May, Dale Lipschultz, ALA’s Literacy Officer, led a discussion on e-readers and adult literacy at the Florida Literacy Coalition’s 2011 Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida. The session, attended by a wide range of stakeholders including librarians, adult literacy teachers and tutors,  literacy program administrators, and non-profit professionals, examined the use of e-readers as a teaching and learning tool in adult literacy programs and sought attendees’ input and participation in the shaping of this emerging technology. This post features Dr. Lipschultz’s notes from the program.

The discussion evolved from research conducted by the Carnegie Corporation of New York (CCNY) in the summer and fall of 2010. The Carnegie Corporation convened a meeting of the leaders in e-reader technology to discuss current applications and focus attention on next steps in the development of new platforms and prototypes with the intention of influencing the future development of e-readers from the top.

Timeline: Genesis

  • October 2010, School Library Journal’s Leadership Summit: Carnegie Corporation presented preliminary research in an effort to solicit input from school librarians about the developing new and improving existing e-reader technologies and platforms .
  • January 2011, ALA’s Midwinter Meeting:  the Committee on Literacy’s Research to Practice discussion group focused on e-readers and the future of reading. More than 60 librarians, from libraries of all kinds, participated in this discussion. Participants included :
    • Pinellas County Schools: Pilot project funded by Amazon and the St. Petersburg Times
      • 1 Kindle for each student preloaded with textbooks and with access to additional books
      • Early positive anecdotal data
  • University of Washington
    • This study examines the complexity of using e-readers in an academic setting.
    • http://www.washington.edu/news/articles/college-students2019-use-of-kindle-dx-points-to-e-reader2019s-role-in-academia
    • April 2011: ALA’s Office for Information and Technology Policy (OITP) formed a digital literacy task force .
      • The Task Force’s charge emphasizes the general recognition among librarians and non-librarians alike that literacy skills now encompass the need to be fluent with a variety of technologies and applications .
        • The Task Force will conduct an environmental scan in order to identify and understand the types of digital literacy activities already in place, where there might be gaps, and ways to prepare ALA for the changing landscape of digital literacy.

What we know about e-readers

We’re hearing a great deal about e-readers – pros, cons, and questions. We’re hearing this from librarians and literacy providers, and most of all, from the media and the developers.

We know:

  • 4 million homes have e-readers
  • 57% of kids 9-17 are interested in e-readers. These kids said that they would be more likely to read for fun with an e-reader.
  • The sale of e-books outpaced the sale of print books.

Trends driving the adoption of e-reader technology

  • Abundance of resources on the web
  • Just in time – found learning
  • Learner collaboration
  • Cloud technology

The case for examining the future of reading and the introduction and impact of e-readers

  • The United States must remain competitive
  • Reading expectations are increasing
  • We have the tools for teaching reading – learning to read
  • We have not made progress teaching advanced literacy skills – reading to learn
  • There is false dichotomy between learning to read and reading to learn

Discussion Points

As I informed the session attendees, I don’t have many answers at this point in the discussion. In order to move the discussion forward I’ve identified some talking points and framed a series of questions.  My task is to collect information and suggestions and continue sharing and gathering information with broader and more diverse audiences.

Our first challenge is to expand the conversation about e-readers and education. We need researchers, educators, and e-reader developers to look beyond K-12 and higher education. The dialogue must include educational opportunities for new and non-readers, native English speakers and speakers of other languages, and adults with learning challenges. We also have to include learning and literacy instruction beyond the classroom and one-on-one  tutoring– in the library, in the community, and at home.

Here’s the big question – what’s the future of reading?

Questions for the audience:

  1. Can you envision or have you and your colleagues discussed using e-readers as an educational/instructional tool? The participants noted several programs in Florida that were piloting e-reader programs. These programs are still in the formative stage.
  2. What ‘special’ issues do you see when it comes to using e-readers with adult learners in class, with tutors, and during independent learning? Participants noted issues of cost and access to adult literacy resources, including textbooks and high/low reading collections.
  3. What are your biggest concerns?

Q: With these new technologies, literacy is being left at the wayside.

A: The basis for literacy is still reading and writing. ALA’s Committee on Literacy has discussed this issue frequently and in detail. According to the Committee, literacy is a house with many windows – information literacy, digital literacy, media literacy. The house of literacy has only one door and that is foundational literacy… the ability to read, write, and comprehend text.

What’s next?

  1. ALA’s Digital Literacy Task Force is meeting in June to discuss definitions, direction, and products
  2. USCAL, ProLiteracy’s Conference on Adult Literacy, is in Houston, Texas, November 2-5, 2011, ALA is presenting a session on e-readers.
  3. ALA is working with publishers regarding pricing of and access to e-readers.
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